The citizen and golfer, whose commerce with Rembrandt was narrated in the first chapter, approached the master through the writings of his Recoverers, certain art historians and scholars, who frequent libraries, search archives, and peruse documents; men to whom a picture is a scientific document rather than an emotional or intellectual experience. He was well content to end his commerce with Rembrandt there. History interested him: to art he was apathetic.

His son, as was indicated in the second chapter, was indifferent to art history, and he would not have walked across the road to read an unedited document; but I see him tramping ten miles to seek a picture that promised to stir his emotions and stimulate his imagination. Rembrandt, the maker of pictures, had become a vivid personality, a master whom he reverenced; but Rembrandt the etcher was unknown to him.

There are authorities who assert that in etching Rembrandt's art found its amplest and most exquisite expression. None will deny that his is the greatest name in etching. If all Rembrandt's pictures were destroyed, if every record of them by photograph or copy was blotted out, the etchings alone would form so ample a testimony to his genius that the name of Rembrandt would still remain among the foremost artists of the world.

Rembrandt enjoyed a period of popularity with his pictures, followed by years of decline and neglect, when lesser and more accommodating men ousted him from popular favour. But from first to last the products of his needle were appreciated by his contemporaries, even if he himself did not set great store by them. He began to etch early in life: he ceased only when his eyesight failed. He found in etching a congenial and natural means of self-expression. His artistic fecundity threw them off in regal profusion. The mood seized him: he would take a prepared plate, and sometimes, having swiftly spent his emotion, he did not trouble to do more than indicate the secondary incidents in a composition. Often he gave them away to friends and fellow-artists, or tossed them, when they had answered their purpose in his art life, so continuously experimental, into one of the sixty portfolios of leather recorded in the inventory of his property.

The history of Christ Healing the Sick, known as The Hundred Guilder Print, now the most prized of all the etchings, shows that he did not attach much value, either artistic or monetary, to this plate. He did not even receive a hundred guilders (under £9) for it, but gave the etching to his friend Jan Zoomer in exchange for The Pest, by M. Anthony. At the Holford sale, as has already been noted, £1750 was given for the Hundred Guilder Print.

It is supposed that only two of the etchings were made expressly for publication—the Descent from the Cross, and the Ecce Homo; but Rembrandt may have benefited from the sale of them through the partnership that was formed in 1660 between his son Titus and Hendrickje Stoffels.

 MINERVA 1655. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.MINERVA 

1655. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

In the eighteenth century certain connoisseurs had already made collections of his etchings. Catalogues began to be published, and in 1797 Adam Bartsch, keeper of the prints in the library at Vienna, issued the well-known catalogue that bears his name in two octavo volumes. Since Bartsch's monumental work many students of the etchings have striven to sift the authentic from the false. Needless to say, they disagree. Here are the figures:—

Bartsch 375 authentic etchings.
Wilson 366 "           "
Claussin 365 "           "
Blanc 353 "           "
Middleton-Wake 329 "           "
de Seidlitz 260 "           "
Legros 71-113 "           "

M. de Seidlitz's list of 260 was arrived at through consultation with several authorities, and that number is now accepted as approximately correct.

Our enthusiast knew nothing of the work of the labourers in Rembrandt's etching vineyard. He was quite ignorant of the expert contributions of Sir Francis Haden, P.G. Hamerton, and Mr. Frederick Wedmore, although his father, had he been a communicative man, could have discoursed learnedly on their efforts. Fate so willed it that he came to Rembrandt's etchings by chance, and, being sensitively alive to beauty and idealism, they merged into his life, and became as it were a personal possession.

On a certain day, in the window of one of those delightful London shops where first editions, prints, pieces of pottery, and odds and ends tempting to the virtuoso, are exposed for sale, he saw a small opulent picture by Monticelli. Entering to inquire the price, he discovered, as he had feared, that it was far beyond his bank balance. At the invitation of the proprietor, who seemed delighted that his goods should be admired, he stayed to "look round." Strewn upon a rosewood, inlaid table were a hundred and more etchings. Many were quite small, heads of men and women minutely and beautifully wrought; others, larger in size, were Biblical subjects; some were weird and fantastical; one, for example, showed a foreshortened figure lying before an erection, upon which a skinny bird stood with outstretched wings, flanked by ugly angel boys blowing trumpets.


1657. The Wallace Collection, London.

"The best are sold," said the gentle proprietor.

The enthusiast was about to ask the name of the artist, when he suddenly caught sight of the Christ at Emmaus. His blood stirred in him. That little shop became an altar of art, and he an initiate. It was not the same version as the Louvre picture, but only one mind—the mind of Rembrandt, only one heart—the heart of Rembrandt, could have so felt and stated the pathos and emotion of that scene. Controlling his excitement, he turned over the prints and paused, startled, before Abraham's Sacrifice. What was it that moved him? He could hardly say. But he was moved to an extraordinary degree by that angel standing, with outstretched wings, by Abraham's side, hiding the kneeling boy's eyes with his hand, staying the knife at the supreme moment. He turned the prints, and paused again before The Prodigal Son. Some might call the face of the kneeling prodigal hideous, might assert that the landscape was slight and unfinished, that the figure in the doorway was too sketchy. Not so our enthusiast. This was the Prodigal Son, and as for the bending, forgiving father, all that he could imagine of forgiveness and pity was there realised in a few scratches of the needle. He turned the prints and withdrew Tobit Blind. In every line of this figure of the wandering old man, tapping his stick upon the pavement, feeling his way by the wall, was blindness, actual blindness—all the misery and loneliness and indignity of it.

"Are these for sale?" he asked the smiling proprietor, without the slightest hope that he could afford one.

"Oh yes! Tobit Blind you can have for two shillings and sixpence. Abraham's Sacrifice, Christ at Emmaus, and The Prodigal Son are four shillings each."

The enthusiast could not conceal his astonishment. "I thought Rembrandt's etchings cost hundreds of pounds," he said.

"They do, but these are merely reproductions. Only a millionaire could hope to possess a complete collection of first states. These are the reproductions that were issued with M. Blanc's catalogue. He made them from the best proofs in his own collections, and from the public museums. You should compare them with the originals. The difference will astonish you. It's candle-light to sunlight, satinette to the finest silk."

"But where can I see the originals? I don't know any millionaires."

"Nothing easier! Go to the Print Room of the British Museum or to the Ionides Collection."

A day or two later the enthusiast, carrying under his arm the roll of four Rembrandt's etchings that he had purchased for fourteen shillings and sixpence, ascended the stairs of the British Museum, and timidly opened the door marked, "Print Room. Students only."

His reception agreeably surprised him. He, an obscure person, was treated as if he were a M. Michel. An obliging boy requested him to hang his hat and coat upon a peg, and to sign his name in a book. An obliging youth waved him to a noble desk running at a right angle to a noble window, and begged him to indicate his needs upon a slip of paper. He inscribed the printed form with the words—"Rembrandt's Etchings and Drawings."

The obliging youth scanned the document and said—"Which do you wish to see? There are many portfolios. I can bring you one at a time."

"Do so, if you please," said the enthusiast. "I should like to examine them all, even if it takes a week."

The obliging youth inclined his head and departed.

There is a delightful air of leisure and learning about the Print Room, and an entire absence of hustle. Two students besides himself were the only other members of the public, one studying Holbein, the other Blake.


1641. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

The first portfolio that was brought to him contained the Christ Healing the Sick, known as The Hundred Guilder Print, in several states. It was the first large etching by Rembrandt that he had seen, and he gazed with astonishment, admiration, and awe at the almost miraculous characterisation of the figures, at the depth and richness of the blacks, and the nobility of the conception. He passed from that to The Three Crosses, and was even more moved by the dramatic intensity and realism of those burdened crosses against the profound gloom, and the dim, poignantly realised figures in the foreground. He saw theChrist before Pilate and The Death of the Virgin, lingering before them, studying every detail, realising to the full, through these splendid impressions, the height and significance of Rembrandt's genius. He compared the four prints he had purchased with their originals, and understood why collectors were eager to pay enormous prices for fine states, probably printed by the master himself.

As soon as he had finished one portfolio, the watchful attendant carried it away, and substituted another. It was so easy, so restful, and so invigorating to study a master under these conditions, that he wondered the public did not flock to the Print Room as to a first night at a popular theatre.

On another day he studied the drawings and landscape etchings—that dark, spacious design called The Three Trees, and a perfect little drawing of Joseph Consoling the Prisoners. The large plates inspired him with reverence and profound admiration for Rembrandt's genius as an etcher, but it was the smaller etchings that won his love and held it. He promised himself, when he came into certain family monies of which there was some prospect, that instead of buying an automobile, he would make himself the proud owner of The Three Trees, The Prodigal Son, Abraham's Sacrifice, and Tobit Blind—perhaps one, perhaps two, perhaps three, perhaps all four.